MARTIN Petrov choked back the tears as he described how Bulgaria team-mate Stiliyan Petrov had told him to take the field against Wolves, just hours after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
The Wanderers winger scored from the penalty spot to equalise in the second half, revealing a T-shirt with the message “Be Strong Stan” in tribute to his close friend.
And speaking after the game, the 33-year-old could barely hide his emotions as he dedicated the goal to the Aston Villa captain.
“I made the decision to play this game because I spoke yesterday to Stan and he said ‘I told Aston Villa to play, so now I’m telling you – play the game for me and don’t give up fighting.’ he said.
“That was good enough for me, and I decided to play.
“It was a difficult choice considering what has happened in the last few weeks. It has been all bad news for the first time in my career but I am strong and I pray for Stan.
“I’m fighting for him and I know that next year I’ll meet him on the pitch again.”
Stiliyan Petrov watched his team play Chelsea at Villa Park as he prepared to begin treatment, and said on Saturday that he had been inspired to fight the disease after seeing a picture of Fabrice Muamba, whose miraculous recovery in the last fortnight has stunned medics.
Martin Petrov believes there are similarities in the two cases.
“With everything that happened to Fab, the last two or three weeks in football have been unbelievable,” he said. “They are two strong guys who are very professional, and I just can’t understand why this would happen.
“I’m really shocked, but you must stay positive.
“I lived with this guy for two years in Bulgaria. We started our careers together, so it was very difficult when he told me yesterday. It was unbelievable what he was telling me – how he was going to fight this thing.
“Stan was at the Villa game, that’s incredible. It shows you how much character he has.
“He is sure he is going to win this match. One hundred per cent. The next month is important for him, but we are behind him.”
Wanderers’ 3-2 win took them into 16th but Petrov believes the battle to avoid the drop is far from over.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals just as long as we win at this stage of the season,” he said.
“This game is gone now and three points are on our side. The next is Fulham at home and we need three points to stay in the Premier League and make sure that next time we play Aston Villa, it will be Petrov against Petrov again.”